There is a tendency among some critics to dismiss anything genteel and British in a condescending manner, relegating it to the “Masterpiece Theater” demographic. I hope this fate doesn’t befall Goodbye, Christopher Robin, a handsome production that may be genteel but is far from bland. It’s the story of a successful author who survived the horrors of combat during World War I only to face writer’s block—and a desire to address the folly of war. He eventually made up a storybook world to amuse his young son. Little did he dream that it would overtake their lives and turn the unsuspecting boy into a kind of freak-show. One doesn’t associate the term “media celebrity” with the 1920s but that’s what the real-life Christopher Robin became after Alan Milne published his first book about Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood.
Director Simon Curtis has a solid grip on 20th century period pieces, as he’s shown in My Week with Marilyn and Woman in Gold. Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce has experience with biographical stories (Hilary and Jackie, 24 Hour Party People) and whimsy (Millions). His credited co-writer, Simon Vaughan, is primarily a producer whose only other screenplay is the 2004 TV movie A Bear Named Winnie, about a formidable animal who figures in this narrative as well.
In the hands of these skillful filmmakers and a well-chosen cast, Goodbye, Christopher Robin tells a bittersweet story grounded in truth. Domhnall Gleeson portrays A.A Milne as a solitary man who is married to a beautiful but mercurial woman (Margot Robbie). Kelly Macdonald is ideal as their devoted nanny…but it’s during a week when they are left alone that Milne and his son finally forge a bond based on their mutual love of make-believe. The boy is played by an impossibly adorable child named Will Tilston, whose smile could melt butter.
I’ve never read anything about A.A. Milne or his collaborator Ernest Shepard, who supplied the illustrations for the timeless stories that Walt Disney later adapted. I’m always wary of films as sources of information, but if the story told here is essentially accurate it’s a good one. Incredible to think that Winnie the Pooh was borne of so much human conflict.